Wednesday, October 30, 2013

'Showcase': A review of "Mind .vs. Heart" by Raphael

Unlock it. I know that it doesn't always seem to be the case, especially in Reggae music, but talent, a real talent always has a source. It comes from somewhere, no matter how obscure or immediate or surprising it may seem. When you stumble upon a big tune from someone who you've never heard it, chances are fairly good that, even if they don't have another of that particular class, if you do look for it, you're very likely to find something else that they've done that you'll also enjoy. It all becomes a matter of putting that skill into the proper hands of not only developing it, but presenting and promoting it in a way that the masses are able to accept it and to support it. That is, in fact, a talent of its own - as any semi-perceptive fan of the genre will tell, almost everyone gets in wrong when it comes to promotion. There are, thankfully, exceptions however and when it comes to promotion and, of course, making FINE Reggae, simultaneously, there are people who do get it correct and do so continuously. For example, let's just take someone like… maybe IrieVibrations. In terms of the actual music, the Austrian based label has as good of a recent history as almost anyone in Reggae music in recent years. Very well received albums from the likes of Luciano, Anthony B, Perfect Giddimani, Konshens & Delus and others decorate the label's history from just the past few years as does a particularly potent release from earlier this year, "Frequency" by Jahcoustix. Also, I always have to remind myself that IV earned a sizable chunk of my respect when they exercised one massive stroke of common sense just a few years back in re-releasing a wonderful album which was just a year old at the time but had already virtually vanished, "The True Stories of Mark Wonder and Friends. If you were paying attention during those respective times, you also surely noted just how popular those sets were in their day. When IrieVibrations does something, whatever it is, they do not hesitate in getting the word out there and, obviously, they also make great music. So [!], when you combine all of that, if IV were to kind of make a 'suggestion' as to someone fans might want to listen to, I think their opinion might carry a very large amount of weight, given their record. 
And if that is the case (and it is), then we all need to take a minute to stop and pay attention to one Raphael. The artist has very much been a running favourite for IrieVibrations over the past couple of years. He's appeared on a few of their releases (such as the sterling Rub-A-Dub Market Riddim), but if I recall correctly (and I usually do not) IrieVibrations made it quite well known that it was their intentions to do a Raphael album in the future and "the future" is now as we now get a big look at Raphael’s debut solo album, "Mind vs. Heart". Raphael has also voiced for quite a few other producers, most notably with our friends at Bizzarri Records (and he's also worked with Flash Hit Records), but it has been with IrieVibrations whom he has been closest associated. He's shown a whole heap of potential as well and, though it did take me a little longer to get around to (biggup procrastination), I was damn interested in hearing this album. 

Also catching my attention was something mentioned in the press release for the album (press releases, generally speaking, are awful, but the one for this album was very nice) where Raphael is quoted as saying, "People first really need to get to know me better". He's right. Raphael is someone who I've just kind of come to accept and am happy to see on a track, but it took him reaching with a new album for me to realize that I really don't know a damn thing about this man. He's just kind of seems to have shown up one day and now he refuses to leave. Also of note is the fact that he's been making music for a decade as, formerly, Raphael was part of a band called the Eazy Skankers (who I have heard of) with whom he released two albums and he's also Italian originally, with a heritage quite similar to that of Achis Reggae favourite, Lion D (biggup the Lion) (Raphael also, apparently, has giant feet which is distressing because despite, being really large, they are still considerably smaller than my own hysterically large, giant clown-like feet). As far as his music, I make comparisons between Raphael and a few other artists, but I think the best one is probably Ziggi Recado, vocally. What Raphael does bring on his own, however, is this very delightful and kind of 'loose' sound. It almost doesn't seem like he writes a song once or twice here and, instead, it seems as if he goes into the studio, hears a track and sees what happens! It is a quality which comes through throughout "Mind vs. Heart" in somewhat of a playful way and it seems that a conscious effort was made here to develop an album which was just as impacting as it was entertaining and, given his style, that was the right decision here. The album, like everything these days, comes via VPAL, the ultra-active distribution wing of VP Records (who have had an amazing year in doing albums for the likes of Midnite, Gappy Ranks, Junior Kelly, Perfect Giddimani, the aforementioned Jahcoustix and others, with Luciano set to come shortly) who are also very good at promoting projects and should serve as a very formal introduction of Raphael to the Reggae listening world. Again, you couldn't do much better than IrieVibrations in aiding in helping to make that intro and because of all that - my expectations are high and not only for this album, but for Raphael's future work as well. Does his new album ultimately point him in the proper direction? Let's see. 
"Mind vs. Heart" is, very much, a multidimensional project which really displays a great deal of versatility in its star. We get songs of a very serious nature combined with tunes which, seemingly, only exist to make for a good time. The result may be one of the most pleasing experiences to be had on an album in 2013 and a damn fine showcase for Raphael. Following a very nice and relevant Intro, Raphael's debut solo release, "Mind vs. Heart" gets started with one of its undeniable standouts, the stirring 'Laid Back'. The earliest of opinions that I formed in regards to this tune was that (it was too short) the riddim carrying it was GOLDEN. That thing is wonderful. Also on my mind was how the tune seems to be a microcosm of the entire album as Raphael acknowledges there're so many bad things in life, but holds up other things, like music in particular, as an escape and a relief from the pressures of everyday life. It is subtle, but the tune is a very unique one in its subject and it is a MIGHTY way to get going. Next is a selection which takes itself even lighter, 'Wine With Me'. I saw the title of the tune and I thought that there was no way in the world that Raphael and IrieVibrations had gone Soca, and they hadn't, but what they did instead was to put up a SWEET love-esque type of tune centered around the dance. It comes off very easy and it even echoes the sentiments of the opener in placing itself in a social context with music, and love, once again coming to the rescue (and check the dazzling multi-lingual first verse). I believe that it is the song 'Soundblaster' which is getting the early push from the album, but the first few times that I heard it, I didn't really like it, until I really tuned it in. Lyrically, for what it is, 'Soundblaster' is nearly perfect. The song is an observation from Raphael on the state of Reggae music today and he comments on how much things have changed over the years. While I typically do not enjoy songs like this, which kind of seem to hold this 'older = better' type of mentality, I don't think Raphael's point of reference is that old and, instead, he's actually speaking on how rapidly things have changed in such a short period of time. At one point he even says, "If this a Reggae, mi no Reggae artist. Take off mi name and mi face from di list", which is a big statement of how exactly he's noticed things have changed on what shows itself to be a MASSIVE song.


The song, 'Mind vs. Heart' wraps up the first third of the album's first quarter and, as usual, I was really interested in hearing the focal point on the record's eponymous piece. TEARS! 

"Life is a jungle, whole heap a rumble
Haffi find a way to prevail
So many trials and crosses and enemies

Mind versus heart, water 'gainst stone
Who is gonna overcome and take control?
Sometime I wanna leave, then I wish to stay
Sometimes I am night, sometimes I am day
Mind versus heart, hot against cold
Who is gonna overcome and take control?
Sometimes I deh smile and sometimes I cry
Lord gimme light til the day I die

I'm fighting a war and this time it's against myself
I am hurting inside, and mi caan get no rest
I smile, I cry, show off, get shy, agree, deny, clear up and confuse again
I meditate and love, then hate

Well its harder than a labyrinth
This yah road is tougher than a maze
Lots of situations, rules and relations -
Seem to conduct straight to craze
Caan be progress if di man get weaker
These are hard times for the deep thought seeker

BOOM! To my opinion, this tune has no equal on the album named after it. What I took from it stands as kind of an 'anti-social commentary'. You'll hear an endless line of tunes throwing the blame of how the world is at a just as endless line of sources (a, but 'Mind vs. Heart' is really about the acceptance of some sort of self-responsibility. And, myself, as someone who has lead a very flawed existence, I always relate to songs like this which speak so candidly about how people constantly seem to get in OUR own way and our biggest obstacle CONSTANTLY is the one in the mirror. A HUGE song and the best one on this album. 

"Mind vs. Heart" features two very familiar moments which bookend its middle portions, 'Inna Dis Ya Time' and 'If Jah Is With You'. The former was a big selection from IrieVibrations' Jungle Skunk Riddim, while the latter was Raphael's cut of the aforementioned Rub-A-Dub Market. For its part, I don't know that I've ever paid as much attention to 'Inna Dis Ya Time' as I have now that it is on this album. It is a very strong effort and one which fits, seamlessly, into the type of songs on the balance of the album. Between those two pieces is a trio of decent pieces which begins with the very clever 'In Every Style'. This song perfectly epitomizes what I meant when I said that "Mind vs. Heart" had a "loose sound". Here, Raphael, intentionally, goes through a variety of different styles to make for a very light and fun moment on the album. While I wouldn't say that it is a favourite of mine, I will say that this album is a little less fun sans this particular track. Check the stirring 'Duppies Inna Dance' (and that piece of magic behind it), which deals with being making negative music and presenting negative images surrounding the music and just how unfortunately infectious both can be. And there is also the love song, 'Knocking', which isn't quite as good as 'Wine With Me', but is still more than solid on its own. 

Highlighting the final few selections on "Mind vs. Heart" is a pair of the album's official combinations which feature some highly sagacious choices by Raphael and IrieVibrations. Each and every time I hear something from Skarra Mucci, I get more and more impressed and the same could be said for his contribution to this album which is found on 'What About Us'. The DJ also made a fine appearance on Lion D's most recent album ["Bring Back The Vibes", big album, in stores now] and he adds in a major way to this excellent social commentary. 'Step Up' grabbed even more of my attention, however, as it features one of my personal favourites and one of Reggae's most talented lights in my opinion, the brilliant Tiwony. As always, the Gwada chanter turns in a flaming performance as does Raphael on this BIG call to action type of tune which is just as entertaining as it is poignant. Speaking of "poignant", the song 'Time' definitely took me a bit of time to get through because I really couldn't comprehend what was the purpose behind it. Where I eventually came to was that it is relatively close to the title track as Raphael seems to say that certain things in the world are the way that they are because mankind, as a whole, has refused, or been unable to, learn from our mistakes. 'Gideon' (ANOTHER big riddim on that song) is another piece which I can say is somewhat related to the title track (more on all of that in a minute) as it deals with emotions and the mental side of going through hard times. What I like here, besides the message, is the vibes of the song. This tune, especially, really adds a nice EDGE to the album. I get this far into things and what I'm really waiting for is Raphael to get just a little pissed off -- to lose just a little of his mind -- and this is as close to that as we get here and it turns into one of the best songs on the album in my opinion. 'She Cry' is an other-side-of-love song and it's also (probably intentionally) kind of funny and nice to listen to.

"Mind vs. Heart" also includes three "bonus tracks" (it's more like two and a half) and, if I recall correctly (and I usually do not), Jahcoustix' album did the same thing as well. In this case, 'To The Foundation' is a really big song and if you're getting that as extra or a bonus, you're getting a nice deal because it's just as good as almost anything on the fifteen songs ahead of it. Then there is 'Cool Down' which features veteran singer Michael Rose and it is even better! HOWEVER, the best bonus on the album is the final one which is a dubbed out version of 'Cool Down'. Maybe as I get older and older I become more of a Dub head because every time I seem to run into it these days (usually in very similar situations), I'm enjoying it and I also like it in this case because it kind of validates that I'm not the only one enthralled by the music which is to be found throughout this album. It is, definitely, one of its greatest features. 
Overall, I do want to remark on the kind of lasting feel of "Mind vs. Heart". It is an album which is very much the product of Raphael's head and his head is obviously focused inward, primarily. I think that to make an album which deals so much with an individual and individuals, in general, is just a great idea. And while I do not know (and I ultimately don't think that it will be) if it will be regarded or credited for being such a unique release, it definitely does deserve credit for it. So many times you go through albums which do not really offer anything new in the way of perspective, but this is not one of those. "Mind vs. Heart" is a very fresh and compelling album which, hopefully, introduces us to a talent which Reggae fans can enjoy for decades and decades to come. Raphael and IrieVibrations put on a show which is not to be missed by fans, new and old alike, of the genre on one of the best debut sets of the year. 

Rated: 4/5
IrieVibrations Records
CD + Digital

Review #474

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